Andrew Wiggins Wins NBA Rookie of the Year, Sights Set on Pan Am Games


Andrew Wiggins Wins NBA Rookie of the Year, Sights Set on Pan Am Games

Andrew Wiggins claimed his first major individual award in his young career when he was named NBA Rookie of the Year on Thursday.

The praise has come from all over the NBA and the country of Canada, including NBA legends, and even from the Prime Minister’s office.

The Vaughan, Ontario native was selected No. 1 overall in the 2014 NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers, before being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, alongside fellow canuck Anthony Bennett, for the rights to Kevin Love.

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Wiggins thrived in a somewhat smaller spotlight, with a fan base and media willing to be patient to see their new star grow, as opposed to the pressure cooker he no doubt would have faced in Cleveland with the return of LeBron James.

Wiggins averaged 16.9 points and 4.6 rebounds over the course of the season, but it was his play down the last three months that really set him apart from the rest of the rookie class, averaging just under 20 points from January on.

The stats are great, but I think the number one thing to take away from Wiggins first season is the fact that he played all 82 games, which is a comforting fact to a Wolves franchise that was decimated with injuries and finished with a league worst 16-66 record.

With the season over and the awards handed out, it’s time for Wiggins to look to the upcoming 2015 Pan Am games being held here in Toronto during July, and the Olympic Qualifiers hosted by Mexico in August.

For Wiggins, it is the chance to play for Canada in a major international competition for the first time since he was in high school.

That’s if he chooses to play.

It’s always been a thing in Canadian basketball that we almost never seem to be able to put together the absolute best roster our country can produce. Steve Nash, the current general manager of the men’s national team, was guiltier of this than anyone.

Granted, he played for Canada as late as 2004 in a failed attempt to qualify for the Olympics in Athens that year, but never touched the floor again in a Canadian jersey due to a spat with management over the firing of head coach Jay Triano.

By the time this new generation of kids came around for the London 2012 Olympic qualifiers, Nash had completely removed himself from the idea of playing for Canada, despite how clear it was that the team could qualify had he been a part of it.

Luckily, I don’t think we will have to worry about that this time around.

With Nash back in the fold as general manager, Triano as head coach, and with a number of players returning with the lessons learned of the past five years both internationally and in the NBA, Canada Basketball looks like it can finally start fulfilling its potential.

“I won’t make any proclamations now, but Andrew wants to play,” said Nash, while doing some charity work here in Toronto a few weeks ago, “he’s excited to play, as with all of our NBA players. They have a career, they play for a club that owns their rights and they want to protect their investment.”

Another thought worth noting is the season ending injury Paul George suffered at a USA training camp for the FIBA World Cup last summer.

It’s a scary thought to lose your star while he’s not even wearing your jersey, and in Minnesota’s case, to lose your biggest selling point on an otherwise dull product. It can cost both the team and player millions in the grand scheme of things, and possibly even reverse the destinies of everyone involved.

The injury effectively ended any hopes that Indiana would make a deep playoff run this year.

It ended up being worse than that. The Pacers slumped to a 38-44 record and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

The injury itself put such a scare into fellow USA teammate Kevin Durant, that he admitted to pulling out of the camp because of it.

And that’s the truth of it for better or worse, that the players ultimately make the decisions.

Ironically, though, Durant missed most of this season due to a foot injury anyway, while George managed to come back for the final month of the season, helping Indiana make a last ditch dash for the No. 8 seed in the East, before eventually succumbing to an unrelated calf strain.

Apr 15, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) dribbles the ball in the first quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

That’s sports for you folks, and Toronto sports fans know better than most, you could tear an ACL jogging on the grass for what it’s worth.

To top it off, despite the experience from last year, George has maintained he plans to return to USA Basketball in August.

It’s the same reason we should expect Wiggins suiting up for Canada this summer at the Pan Am games in July, and the Olympic qualifiers in August. At the end of the day, injuries can happen at any time, there’s no point in fearing what might happen to you, otherwise why play any of the games?

It really just comes down to how much the individual player wants it, and no disrespect to the American’s playing for their national team, but Wiggins has a much bigger responsibility to play for Canada, than Kevin Durant or Paul George have for playing with the USA.

Every Canadian NBA player does. They realize they may not get another shot at rivaling the US or Euro powerhouses like they do in the next 10 years.

“Above all else I expect Andrew to be (at the Pan Am Games). He’s had a great season, he works hard, and he represents us so well, so everyone should be proud of what he’s accomplished.” – Steve Nash

Meanwhile, the team USA talent pool is deep enough to fill out three rosters to claim gold, silver, and bronze if they wanted to.

Also, as great as an NBA title is to have, American players might find it difficult to comprehend the relevance of playing and doing well internationally, when Olympic gold medals have never been the standard for a country like Canada.

In other words, we can’t afford to lose our guys based on personal decisions, they can. Luckily, our players are aware of this opportunity over the next decade, and they want a piece of that international pie.

“All of our guys want to play,” continues Nash. “And I expect most, if not all, of them to be there depending on situations, but above all else I expect Andrew to be there. He’s had a great season, he works hard, and he represents us so well, so everyone should be proud of what he’s accomplished.”

The accomplishments have been great so far, and I may not agree with Prime Minister Harper on a lot of things, but he’s right on this one more than he knows.

The best for 2015 with Andrew Wiggins has yet to come.

Next: Steve Nash: Jamal Murray Could Make the Jump to the NBA Right Now